A thick wad of wooly thinking impedes my beginning this post. As I untangle, unwind and cut through it, I realize the obvious. It is no wonder. I’ve been trying to live in the last century for the past week and have finally emerged, dizzy and not a little dazed about my surroundings.
Upon discovering the wonder app Scribd , I ‘read’ an audio book by Alister McGrath on C.S. Lewis, the newest of many biographical attempts to capture the essence of the man. Included in the audio in the last two chapters are soundbites of Lewis talking in a voice that reminds me of that transatlantic accent of the forties.
Let me backtrack. I’ve been a Lewis fan for years. And I’m the kind of Lewis fan that always wants more. I discovered, to my delight, that I hadn’t read everything he’d written, that there was more to discover for the first time, and then to digest again and again.When writing about Lewis one encounters a wall of inadequacy, a feeling as if the subject matter is intimidating. There are far more people who know so much more than I do, and what in the world does an American woman, educated very humbly in junior college and private Christian college, know of an Oxford don anyway?
These hesitations I throw away for pure love of Lewis.
Now Lewis, himself, would be the first one to discourage this kind of thinking, and that is precisely what McGrath’s book gave me – a sense of what Lewis would have said to me, had I been able to meet him. McGrath gave me the most precious of gifts. He helped me to see that Lewis was indeed human. In fact, in daily life and practice, he looked an awful lot like my mother, who is, as I write, assisting my grammar and punctuation. Lewis didn’t drive, lived surrounded by books, regularly gave away most of his income, and lived very frugally, often to the point of squalor.(There is the matter of drinking scotch and being educated in Oxford that doesn’t resemble her).
My connection with Lewis began before I even knew it. 1963 was a big year! On November 22, 1963, three important people died: President John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and my maternal grandfather. Incidentally, all three had Irish roots. I was five years old and in kindergarten. (This same year, the man who was to be my husband, was born)
As McGrath so masterfully explains, Lewis’ influence had little impact at first on the fundamental, evangelical Christian world. I was born into that world. Intellectualism, especially in a broad sense, was not particularly encouraged in my world, except by my mother. After college I read my first book by Lewis, feeling very much as if I had started too late to think deeply. When a Christian apologist can blend reason and imagination as he did, the effect is very nearly magic, and quite possibly ‘deep magic’ to borrow a Lewis term. You see, the use of certain everyday objects, such as a cigarette, a pint of beer, or the word ‘magic’ was taboo to the American evangelical. I had, in fact, by that time already fallen in love with everything British, and Lewis encapsulated the English scholar, but an English scholar who puts christianity in both lofty and accessible terms? This was jam and bread.
Despite that fact that Lewis’ rise to fame, as is often the case, did not begin with those Oxford academics in close proximity to him-rise to fame he did. His notoriety began in the Wartime Talks on the BBC, the congenial tone of which was a direct result of his attempt to speak to the common man, and not the academic. The world has changed since then, considerably, but Lewis himself was the first to warn against the arrogance of thinking that any present modern view of things is superior to that of the past, as it will be seen to have its flaws, just as do all other epochs in history. This gargantuan picture-window view is refreshingly humble and wise. A little distance gives one greater clarity. That distance just now enables me to see Lewis in an even greater light.
So far I’ve yet to finish all the works of C.S. Lewis, being just now satiated with the images from Mcgrath’s book. I can picture Lewis writing longhand because he believed the cadence of the English language would be lost in the sound of the clinking typewriter, Lewis walking through dark woods to visit a friend, Lewis going to the market to purchase kosher foods for his stepson. These images reveal another time, another place, another kind of man. And this, in our imagination, is just the thing that brings Lewis back again.